Thorp restarts nuclear reprocessing

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield has restarted commercial operations three years after it was closed following a radioactive leak - a development that should ease the funding crisis at the government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, or Thorp, at the nuclear complex in west Cumbria, is a large source of income for the owner NDA, which is responsible for cleaning up the UK's nuclear reactor sites and dealing with radioactive waste.

Thorp recycles spent fuel from nuclear reactors by dissolving it in nitric acid and removing the waste, leaving uranium and plutonium that can be made into mixed oxide fuel. Reprocessing is controversial because the plutonium produced could be used to make nuclear weapons, and the waste is much more radioactive than spent fuel.

Thorp was closed down in April 2005 after it was discovered that 83 cubic metres of the radioactive acid had leaked from a holding tank into the surrounding concrete containment shell. British Nuclear Group, which was then in charge of running Sellafield, said the incident posed no danger to the public but admitted the leak had gone undetected for months.The NDA faces a bill of at least £73bn to clean up the UK's nuclear sites, and while Thorp was closed it was deprived of a vital source of revenue. Asa result, the authority has had to delay the decommissioning of Magnox reactors in the south of England and channel funds to priority clean-up projects at Sellafield and Dounreay, northern Scotland.

Following the break-up of BNG and its parent British Nuclear Fuels, the organisation running Thorp was recently rebranded Sellafield Ltd. The organisation said that Thorp restarted the processing of a 100-tonne"campaign" of spent fuel on March 16.

Last year Thorp completed the reprocessing of 30 tonnes of fuel that had been in the system when it was shut down. But just after it started to reprocess the 100-tonne batch of fuel in January, cables on the fuel elevator snapped and the plant was closed for a further seven weeks.

The news comes as companies are putting the finishing touches to their bids to manage the Sellafield complex, home to the UK's most radioactive waste. Awarding the multi-billion pound contract is the NDA's biggest task, and the authority has told companies to submit their final bids by April 7. Nuclear industry sources said last week that a preferred bidder for the five-year contract, which is expected to be worth more than £1bn a year, could be named as soon as June.

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Lofoten against Sellafield (not verified) Says:
Fri, 2008-04-04 08:41

We have been working for a long time to stop the discharges from Sellafield that comes to our coastline here up in the north. We hope that the restart of Thorp will not give us any risk for new discharges either by air or into our common sea. But the safety culture so far at Sellafield has given us signal that this will happen again and again......